In the 13th general election in May 2013, there were 11.2 million out of 13.2 million registered voters who casted their vote, which represented an 85% turnout. The turnout was unprecedented in all Malaysia’s past general elections and the opposition’s result in the election was also unprecedented. The opposition was however unable to form government albeit obtaining a 51% popular vote due to gerrymandering. Barisan Nasional, with 47% popular vote, managed to form the government with 133 out of 222 parliamentary seats.
As the 14th general election, which is the mother of all elections, approaches, we are now faced with two challenges: the 4 million unregistered voters and a newly emerged group who intend to abstain from voting. It is unclear if the group who are planning to abstain from voting is a subset of the unregistered voters or otherwise. In either case, if they do not plan to vote, they effectually become the same group of silent Malaysians whose voices will not be heard.
I assume those in the movement who intend to abstain from voting are relatively informed about what’s going on in politics instead of totally clueless about politics or electoral system, as one of the most heard arguments from the group is “will a change in government change anything at all?”. We can therefore infer that the intention to abstain stems from disappointment towards political parties, rather than misconception that voting is not important.
I can understand the frustration as the government doesn’t seem to be solving the problems when the nation is being named kleptocracy, when the economy deteriorates, and when the people are struggling to pay their bills. Many may also have lost hope from previous general election as even though the opposition achieved 51% popular vote, Barisan Nasional could still form government. Many also have their doubts on Pakatan Harapan, thinking that the policies implemented in Penang and Selangor cannot be done the same at federal level, hence might as well do nothing at all. There are also people who wish to abstain from voting as a form of protest against the non-existential of a perfect political party.
But what do you think will happen when you abstain from voting? Neither side forms the government? Is such protest in any way meaningful?
In the past, we relied on our experience in understanding and anticipating how would factors such as demography, voters’ age, occupations, race and region play their part in the election result. However, in the coming general election, all these factors now seem to be less reliable as indicators of voting pattern.
Do majority of Chinese from rural constituencies necessarily vote for MCA? Do majority of Malays necessarily vote for UMNO? Do majority of Muslims necessarily vote for PAS? Do majority of Felda settlers necessarily vote for Barisan Nasional? All these questions have different answers now as compared to a decade ago. The extent of the differences is the core of discussion amongst Malaysians, especially politicians for the past two years.
Since there are uncertainties as to which political parties will the unregistered voters vote for, why would the opposition want more people to come out and vote? The primary reason is simple – we believe in a society where its people are proactive in involving themselves in effecting changes to the nation. Only through voting, your voice can be heard and changes become possible.
Besides, politicians who truly believe in their policies want more people to cast their vote. Any political party with sound policy proposals would want voters to hear them out, make their own assessment, and hopefully, vote for them. The opposition’s aspiration in setting policies that best serve the people can be attested by our achievements in Selangor and Penang - which is why we are confident in the policies we propose and we want them to be implemented at federal level.
When we protest, we want our voices to be heard, and corresponding actions to follow. Not casting your vote or casting spoilt votes is not a form of protest but an act of giving up our rights to protest.
If we divide the 4 million unregistered voters evenly across 222 parliamentary seats, we are looking at some 18,000 could-be voters per parliamentary seat who are giving up their rights to be the reason for change for the nation. The movement of abstention will further “delegate” your power to decide your future to others and undermine the spirit of democracy.
Looking at the evolving dynamics in Malaysian politics, we believe that a change in government is possible and probable. The last and most crucial element we need now is a wide spread belief across different segments of the society that every one of us is the game changer for this coming election and that every vote counts.
Let’s not give up our rights to decide our future.